July 27, 2015
Ofcom has revealed a consultation document that sets out its proposed approach to regulating types of Voice over Internet Protocol services (VoIP), which allow users to call ordinary fixed or mobile phone numbers.
Ofcom requires VoIP operators to offer access to the emergency services via the 999 operator, as with standard lines. At present, VoIP operators can voluntarily offer 999 services, but there are requirements placed on them that have discouraged some from doing so due to the costs of implementing the system. Ofcom is concerned that consumers are confused about whether they are able to call 999 from VoIP service.
Ofcom believes the position has changed since its previous consultation in 2006 as there has been an increase in VoIP use. Approximately 10% of UK households used VoIP in the last quarter of 2006, compared to 5% in the last quarter of 2005. In addition, developments in VoIP technology enables the platform to look and feel like a traditional fixed telephone service, and some mobile phones can now make VoIP calls.
VoIP is currently the only voice call service not required to allow 999 calls. Ofcom’s Impact Assessment of the potential costs and benefits of requiring all VoIP services to make calls to traditional fixed phones or mobile phones estimates there would be significant benefits for consumers, which would exceed the costs of compliance for the VoIP providers affected.
The requirement would apply to those companies offering services which allow calls to be made to normal telephone numbers, so those which only offer calls to other VoIP users are likely to be exempt.
If implemented, Ofcom would enforce, monitor and review the policy to ensure VoIP providers are compliant and to enable the regulator to see if its regulations need to be adapted.
Ofcom welcomes responses on this consultation to inform its decisions about regulating access to the emergency services from VoIP services.